Technology

How to pick an educational app

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Learners have hundreds of educational apps at their fingertips, but how do parents choose the right ones for their children? Here are some guidelines.

The best way to judge an app is to test it out before you give it to your child. (Supplied)

Mobile apps have changed numerous aspects of our lives, one such being the education landscape. Learners have hundreds of educational apps at their fingertips, but how do parents choose the right ones for their children? Here are some guidelines to consider when looking for apps.

A photocopied worksheet was about as innovative as things got before the entrance of digital technology and the internet into schools. Today, young people have far more options. Just as mobile apps have changed how we do banking, access the news, or even organise our travels, apps are also changing the education landscape.

E-learning refers to digitally interactive textbooks (or "e-textbooks") and educational apps for tablet and mobile phones (mostly smartphones), which allow learners to interact with their learning material using audio, video and graphics.

For example Via Afrika Publishers, which has 63 years of experience in publishing educational textbooks, have developed an e-learning tool called Test-Urself. This app enables learners to test themselves on their school work in a fun and interactive way.

Another app they recently launched is an augmented reality app for grade 10, 11, and 12 textbooks, called LivingPages. The LivingPages app works by enabling certain pages of Via Afrika textbooks to come alive by enhancing printed books with digital content that can be streamed directly to a smart mobile device.

While these digital products are designed to be in line with the CAPS curriculum used in classrooms across the country, there is a glut of other very good educational apps. Even if they may not be linked to curriculums, they do have a lot to offer young minds.

But with the wide variety of choices parents are faced with when visiting app stores, it is often challenging to know how to choose the right one for your child. Here are some considerations to keep in mind during your search.

'Fun' doesn't mean it isn't educational
Just because an app claims to be "fun" doesn't mean you should dismiss it outright. This is particularly true in apps for younger children. Those apps may seem to be doing nothing educational, but are actually developing key skills like gross and fine motor skills. In assessing your options, look at what the app aims to do and question what its relevance is in the focus area it is attempting to address. Most importantly, make sure it fits with the learning level of your child.

A PDF of a textbook accessed via an app on your smartphone or tablet is technically an educational app. But what does it offer your child? Educational apps should be fostering creative and analytical thinking, not merely moving the rote learning process from a page to a screen. While rote learning is important in developing base skills, make sure that the app you are choosing for your child isn't solely focusing on that. Check to see that the app you are considering engages as many senses as possible, because this will keep children interested and guarantee a higher level of learning.

There are countless app developers out there. That, taken together with the amount of money to be made in this market, means that parents have to be careful when it comes to choosing the right apps for kids. Look for apps developed by reliable educational brands. But the best way to judge an app is to test it out before you give it to your child. Also, talk to other parents and educators to see what they have experienced when it comes to educational apps. And finally, never underestimate the power of a good review.

E-learning technologies are designed for learners to engage more deeply with the subject matter, while – crucially, in today's technology driven world – allowing them to become comfortable with using digital technology. But remember that just as these apps are not a replacement for educators, they also aren't a replacement for you as a parent. Even after finding the right apps for your son or daughter, make sure that you remain an active participant in their education. That is the only way to ensure that the best of what these apps offer actually makes a positive impact on their education.

Micheal Goodman is group content manager for Via Afrika Publishers.

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